14 Tips for Treadmill Running

"Dreadmill" reputation aside, there are lots of benefits to running on a treadmill. It's a great alternative for runners when unfavorable weather or safety issues make it impossible to run outside. Make the most of the 'mill with these tips for an effective, enjoyable, and safe treadmill run.

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Watch Now: How To Get The Best Treadmill Workout

1

Warm Up

It's tempting to just jump on the treadmill and start your workout. But just like with outdoor running, it's ​important that you warm up before getting into the more challenging part of your run. A warm-up raises your heart rate, sends oxygen to your muscles, and raises their temperature so they'll be more efficient. Start with a 5-minute walk or easy jog on the treadmill before you pick up the pace or increase the incline.

2

Know Your Treadmill

To maximize your workout, learn the different functions of the machine you're using. If you are using a treadmill at the gym, ask a trainer to walk you through its functions before you hop on, since it's not always obvious at first glance. Many treadmills have:

  • A heart-rate monitor to help you gauge the intensity of your workout (although a wearable monitor will be more accurate, and won't require you to hold the handrails).
  • A calorie burn calculator that shows you what you're getting from your run—but remember, these readouts aren't very accurate, since they don't factor in your age, weight, sex, and so on. Still, if you do the same workout regularly and the "calories burned" number goes up, that means you're getting more fit.
  • Pre-set workouts or intervals to help you vary your run. These can be handy because they allow you to just set and forget (no making adjustments and pressing buttons while you're moving).
  • Speed display showing how fast you're going. This is usually in miles per hour. If you prefer a minutes-per-mile measurement, check this chart.

  • 4.0 MPH

  • 4.5 MPH

  • 5.0 MPH

  • 5.5 MPH

  • 6.0 MPH

  • 6.5 MPH

  • 7.0 MPH

  • 7.5 MPH

  • 15-minute mile

  • 13:20-minute mile

  • 12-minute mile

  • 10:55-minute mile

  • 10-minute mile

  • 9:14-minute mile

  • 8:34-minute mile

  • 8-minute mile

3

Use a Slight Incline

Set the treadmill inclination to 1 to 2 percent. Since there's no wind resistance indoors, a gentle uphill better simulates outdoor running. Of course, if you're just getting started with running, it's fine to leave the incline at 0 percent until you build up your fitness and increase your comfort level on the treadmill.

But once you are comfortable, don't slack off. Keeping the incline at 0 is actually like running on a slight downhill: Too easy! If you're reading an entire magazine as you barely break a sweat on the treadmill, you're probably not working hard enough. While it's not good to do every run or your entire run at a hard pace (easy days are important), you should sometimes try to push yourself.

Try increasing your speed or incline so that you feel challenged, for at least part of your workout. Interval training, where you run hard for a period of time and then cool down for another interval, is a good way to push the pace without pushing it for the entire run. You can do interval training once or twice a week (never two days in a row).

4

Don't Make It Too Steep

At the same time, don't set the incline too steep (more than 7 percent)—this places too much strain on your back, hips, and ankles.

Some runners assume they're getting a great workout if they challenge themselves to complete their entire run on a steep incline (anything over 2 percent). But that much straight hill running is never a good idea and could lead to injuries. Think about it: Outside, you would never find a 3-mile hill at a 5 or 6 percent incline.

DO: Mix up steep inclines with some flat running.

Avoid running at a steep incline for more than 5 or so minutes. You'll get a much better, safer workout if you alternate between running a few minutes with an incline and a few minutes without. The uphill segments help build strength, and the flatter ones build stamina and endurance. Here's a ​​30-minute interval workout to try.

5

Don't Hold on to the Handrail or Console

Some people assume that they need to hold onto the handrails when walking or running on a treadmill. But the handrails are only there to help you safely get on and off of the treadmill.

There are a couple of problems with holding on to the rails. First, it forces you to hunch over, an inefficient running form that can lead to neck, shoulder, and back pain. Keep your posture straight and erect. Your head should be up, your back straight, and shoulders level.

DO: Practice proper upper body form by keeping your arms at a 90-degree angle, just as you would if you were running outside.

Holding on to the rails may make you feel like you can keep up the pace and work harder, but, in reality, you're reducing your load and making it easier on yourself. Try to pretend that the rails are not even there, as if you're running outside. If you're concerned about falling, you're probably running at too fast of a pace or too steep of an incline. Slow down and/or reduce your incline. Safety and form are more important.

6

Don't Lean Forward

Make sure to keep your body upright. It's not necessary to lean forward because the treadmill pulls your feet backward. You need to pull your feet from the belt before they are driven away by the belt. If you lean forward too much, you may end up with neck and back pain, or you could lose your balance.

It may help to check your posture (settling your shoulders above your hips; pulling in your abs) before you get on the treadmill, during your warm-up, and periodically throughout your run.

7

Don't Look Down

It's hard not to frequently look at the console to see how much time or distance you have left, but if you're looking down, your running form will suffer. Don’t stare at your feet, either. You're likely to run hunched over, which could lead to back and neck pain.

Looking straight ahead is the safest way to run, whether you're on the treadmill or running outside.

8

Pay Attention to Your Stride

You should be running on the treadmill the same way you would run outdoors. Try to run with your natural gait, and avoid taking short, choppy strides. If your form feels off, slow your pace until you feel like you're using proper form. Then gradually increase the pace.

Another common form mistake is overstriding, or landing heel first with your foot well ahead of your body's center of gravity. Since the treadmill's belt is moving you forward, overstriding creates a braking force with the belt. To avoid this, try to keep your feet under your body, not ahead or behind it.

Keep your stride quick to help minimize the impact transferred to your legs. Try to maintain a mid-foot strike to make sure you're not heel striking and sending shock to your knees. You may need to exaggerate the heel lift because the lack of forward momentum means your feet won't be moving in a circular path.

9

Improve Your Stride Count

The more steps you take per minute, the more efficiently you'll run. Determine your stride count by counting how often one foot hits the belt in a minute (since you have a timer right there on the console). Then double that number.

To improve your stride count during your treadmill run, focus on taking shorter, quicker strides and keeping your feet close to the belt. This exercise will help you deal with boredom on the treadmill and even improve your outdoor running.

Elite runners run at a cadence of about 180 steps per minute.

10

Don't Step On or Off While the Treadmill Is Moving

One of the biggest causes of injuries on treadmills is jumping off a fast-moving treadmill. If you need to run to the bathroom, grab a towel, or get some water, slow the machine down to a very reduced pace and lower the incline. Then step off carefully. Do the same when you get back on; don't try to pick up right where you left off at a fast pace or high incline.

Better yet, try to make sure you have everything you need—towel, water, headphones, etc.—before you start your run, so you won't be tempted to hop off.

11

Listen to Music

Although using headphones while running outside is not safe, listening to music on the treadmill can be a great way to combat boredom and run longer. Choose motivating songs and create a playlist for your workout—it will help prevent you from continually checking the clock to see how much more you have to go.

If you choose to watch TV or movies on a screen, be sure to be alert to your form, especially your neck and head. Don't crane your neck up to see a screen, and don't bend over or lean forward to get a good view either. If the screen on the treadmill you use doesn't work for your size or posture, skip the videos and stick with music or podcasts.

12

Visualize a Route

Another trick to pass the time on a treadmill is to visualize an outdoor route that you frequently drive or run. Picture yourself running along and imagine the buildings and other landmarks you'd pass along the way. Change the incline setting at the time you'd be heading up a hill on your outdoor route.

Build in some speed changes, too. When you're running outside, you're running at different speeds because of factors such as the wind, hills, traffic lights, and changing weather conditions. So, to mimic outdoor running conditions, try varying the pace and/or the incline throughout the run.

13

Don't Forget to Hydrate

You can lose even more water running on a treadmill than you would if you were running outside, since there's little air resistance to help to keep you cool. Keep a bottle of water within easy reach, and drink at least 4 to 6 ounces for every 20 minutes you are running on the treadmill.

14

Cool Down

If you've ever felt a little dizzy, or like you're still moving, after taking that first step off the treadmill, it's most likely because you didn't cool down at the end of your run. You may feel like jumping off the treadmill as soon as the timer hits your goal. But stopping suddenly can cause light-headedness, because your heart rate and blood pressure drop rapidly. Winding down slowly allows them to fall gradually.

DON'T: End your cool-down until your heart rate goes below 100 bpm. 

Just as you raised your heart rate gradually at the start of your workout with a warm-up, you need to lower it slowly at the end. Cool down by walking or slowly jogging for 5 to 10 minutes before you step off the treadmill. Follow up with post-run stretches if you like.

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